Let’s talk about flying small planes

small planeFor the past several years, I have been lucky in that I haven’t had to fly on the small planes very often. Last week, I flew three straight flights on small planes. Not the tiniest planes I’ve ever been on—these were the 2-2 configuration—but still quite a bit smaller than a Super 80 or 737. It’s not easy being in a space that cramped, but there are some things that can make it easier. Although nothing will make the lav any bigger….I definitely recommend hitting the airport restroom if you can!

Bright tag on your luggage. With the smaller plane, you will have to gate check any rollaboards. On the one hand, you may be able to pack it a little fuller than otherwise because there are no overhead bins to worry about. On the other hand, it means that waiting after the flight for your bag can feel like forever. Especially if you are hungry, have another flight, or need to run to the loo. If there are 15 people in front of you, it can be hard to tell if the black suitcase they just brought in is yours. A simple fix is a bright luggage tag. Mine was a gift from my step-sister a few years ago, and is colorfully striped. (See pic from yesterday’s post—you can kind of see it in the corner.)

Don’t put your coat in your bag! This is a biggie this time of year. Those jetbridges are not usually heated, so if you’re standing in there for twenty minutes waiting for your bag it can get quite chilly! Carry your coat on the plane with you. In a lot of cases (all the flights I was on) there will be room to put it in the overhead bin. Otherwise, just keep it in your lap or use it as a pillow.

Wait patiently. In the two recommendations above, I mention waiting for your suitcase for a long time. If you have never had to gate check a bag on a small plane, you may think I’m exaggerating. I am not. Sometimes they are super fast and you only have to wait a few minutes. Most of the time it takes 10-15 minutes for me to get my bag. Line up on one side of the wall of the jetbridge so you’re out of the way of people deplaning. If you have to peek around the person in front of you to see if your bag is there, move out of the way quickly so you’re not blocking others’ views.

Have stuff ready for flight if in window seat. My experience has been that because people aren’t trying to cram their rollaboards into the overhead bins, there is plenty of room for other stuff like purses and coats. If you are lucky enough to be in the aisle, you can probably put your small bag in the overhead bin and jump up and get whatever you need. However, if you’re in the window I recommend getting whatever you need out before you sit down. The main reason is because there is not really enough room for normal sized adults to lean down and get into their bag if it’s under the seat in front of you. I tried to get into my bag, and got a painful crick in my neck. Don’t do that! Have your stuff ready ahead of time.

Try to sit up front. If you get airsick at all, try to sit at the front of the plane. The bumps are felt so much more dramatically at the back!

Readers, any tips for flying the small planes?


  1. Some additional, positive observations when flying on smaller planes:
    -generally speaking, quick boarding and exiting on arrival.
    -quick drink service from flight attendants.
    -on the Embraer 145 regional jet, there’s a single row of seats on one side, which are a little narrow, but that is outweighed by comfort of no person adjacent and a feeling of being on a private jet. You have to make the most of it!

  2. Downsize to a bag thatcyou can carry on, if possible, and know what planes it fits on. I know my small rollaboard fits fine in anything larger than a 50 seater, so I can avoid the waiting game frequently.

  3. On the Embraer with the 2-1 configuration, if you are big or tall, avoid the single seat at all costs. Choose the aisle on the other side. The fusilage will cut into your head a leg room putting you in a “C” like position.

  4. Flying to my father’s house for Christmas, the flight from DEN to the local airport was on a Beech 1900. All seats were both window and aisle seats. No lavatories on board-there were several announcements in that regard prior to boarding. No overhead bins, so many carryon bags were gate checked. And no drink service during the one hour flight. In fact, there were no flight attendants…the safety briefing was given by the first officer.

    On the return trip, we got to the airport about an hour before our 8:30 am flight…TSA showed up about 20 or 30 minutes later, and screening all seventeen passengers took about ten minutes, LOL.

  5. Be prepared that there may not be a jetway upon arrival, you may be on the Tarmac waiting for your bag and/or bus to terminal.

    Also noise canceling ear buds help with the noise.

  6. Those 2x2s are not really small at all. You need to head to Guernsey on a 1×1 with no aisle and outside access. The plane is so small the safety briefing has to be done inside the terminal.

  7. When booking it’s good to keep in mind when selecting seats (if available) that the first row on these smaller planes typically has less leg room and no where for you to stash your personal bag. (You’ll need to store that in an overhead bin.) Also, one of the two overhead bins in the first row are generally designated for first aid and crew belongings only.

  8. I recently measured the overhead bins of the Embraer 145 and the CRJ 100 because I got tired of gate checking bags. I found a bag that is 19″ tall, 13″ wide and 7″ deep. I took it on a 5 day trip recently on which I flew YVR-SFO-ORD-ICT-YQT-YYZ-YVR on several different small regionals including a Dash-8 100 and it fit into every bin- no gate checks req’d.

  9. I am a student pilot who flies small planes and I recommend going to the restroom first, whether or not the plane has a loo. Even a Cessna 172 has more legroom in back than a jet so enjoy the experience! Some of the smaller corporate jets are very comfy. Be mindful about luggage-these planes have smaller weight & balance envelopes than jets. Don’t be rude if you are given a specific seat for W&B reasons-this is to make sure the plane’s center of gravity is in the right place. Same thing if they weigh you and your luggage. Don’t worry about bumpy air-it is normal and not dangerous.

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